Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Watts Gallery

Watts Gallery is in Compton, Surrey. G F Watts and his wife Mary built the Gallery by their house and workshop/studio in Compton, using local people and materials. The building was to house G F Watts art and also that of his contemporaries and was inspired by his friend, Frederick Leighton;s Gallery in his house in Kensington. Although Watts, himself only lived a few months after it was open, his wife continued working and exhibiting there, employing local people to help her in her kiln and with her pottery in a charitable way, keeping them from the streets.
Gradually, the Gallery had fallen into disrepair and threaten the works of art on display, so much so that the trustees decided drastic action was required. A Heritage Lottery grant was applied for and they were successful in being awarded one. Other donors were found and with this money they were able to put an ambition programme of renovation in motion.

In May 2011, they invited HRH The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall to open the newly renovated Gallery. It is a beautiful light and airy place with loads of display space for paintings as well as a sculpture gallery downstairs. Here are plaster casts and sculpture that Watts made including a huge plaster model of an equestrian sculpture as well as Tennyson's statue that can be found in Lincoln Cathedral.
Attached to the Gallery is Mary Watts pottery which has become the ticket office and gift shop; and an excellent cafe, The Tea Shop, that serves wonderful refreshments. There is a new project afoot to raise money to acquire and renovate the Watts' home, Limnerslease. They hope to win The Art Fund Prize 2012, which would go a long way to achieving this.

Just down the road, you pass it on your way up to the Gallery, is the Watts Chapel. This was created by Mary Watts and her fellow potters when G F Watts died. It is an amazing Arts and Crafts building, highly decorated in terracotta on the outside and richly painted on the inside. It is a must to visit when you are visiting the Gallery.

Watts Gallery
Watts Chapel
G F Watts
Mary Watts
The Art Fund Prize 2012
Frederick Leighton
Leighton House

Monday, January 09, 2012

Last days in New Orleans

Just a few days left of the holidays and we explored even more of the surrounding area. A trip to Bayou Savage was followed by a visit to NOMA Sculpture Garden.

Here we found many interesting sculptures as well as the famous Blue Dog that pops up all over Louisiana. This is the work of George Rodrigue,who was born 13 March 1944 in Louisiana. He became an artist and has painted many famous people as well as the local Cajun population and Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina. Apparently there was an amazing retrospective exhibition at NOMA in 2008 with record numbers of visitors and opening hours.

Walking in City Park, a huge green recreation area to the north of the city, we spotted plenty of wild life, and then drove the short distance to the shore of lake Pontchartrain. Here there were pelicans perched on the posts out from the shore.

But then it was time for us to leave and we packed our cases - much more easily than when we arrived, and it was off to Louis Armstrong to catch the flight home. What d'ya know - BA upgraded us to business class, so feet up and a bit of a snooze before landing in London.

NOMA Sculpture Park
George Rodrigue
City Park, New Orleans

Monday, January 02, 2012

Celebrating a birthday and New Year

On 28th December we drove off in the little bus to visit various places on our way to an overnight stay at Nottoway Plantation. The day’s first visit was to Abita Creek Preserve where we walked along the trail to find the local variety of pitcher plant. Once we saw one, there were lots to spot as well as some great fungi. 

But we couldn’t hang about and were soon on our way to Insta-Gator Ranch and Hatchery. This is an alligator ranch that has everything to do with alligators, from eggs to products made from alligators. We booked a tour and were soon learning all about the life cycle of the alligator and how the ranch manages them. It was great fun even though we hadn’t opted for the handling experience – having handled gators/ crocs elsewhere.

There were rumblings of hunger from the men, so our next stop had to be for food. This was planned at the Abita Brew Pub in Abita Springs. It is on Holly St, which seemed very seasonal! Po’boys were ordered and they all came with chips and beers for the chaps. Our cheery server was taken with our selection of accents. A trail for walkers, horses and cycles goes right by the Pub and is built on the old railway. We didn’t follow it as now we had to drive to White Castle and Nottoway Plantation.
Gradually the sun set in an impressive display of reds and deep pinks, then at last we arrived at Nottoway which was floodlit and looking very picturesque. We had three cabins and ours overlooked the ornamental lake. We showered and changed and met in the bar for a quick glass of fizz before going in for our celebratory dinner. A bit on the ‘Faulty Towers’ side of things, we were a little disappointed with their idea of fine dining, but we had fun, which was the main thing. After dinner we strolled around the front of the main house – we had been eating on the ground floor, then around the little lake and back to the cabins for a well-earned sleep.
The next morning we met for a hilarious breakfast where menu items appeared and disappeared at the drop of a hat. Nevertheless what we had was pretty good, and soon we were ready to take the first tour of the house. It is beautifully renovated and was dressed for Christmas, and our guide was very informative. Afterwards, we collected the suitcases and loaded up the bus ready for the next adventure. But some people cannot live without coffee, so Google was consulted and a coffee shop was found in the town of Donaldsonville, the Grapevine, and that was our next stop. Delicious coffees and cake were ordered and we noticed it was the most popular place – ladies lunching, families meeting and so on. Great service, too, so we were very lucky to have found it.

Our route took us along the edge of the bayou and we stopped at the famous view of Oak Alley plantation and the bayou before we visited Laura Plantation, the only Creole plantation open to the public. It is beautifully painted and renovated, and the guides focus on the story of the family, how the plantation was named Laura, and it all comes alive as they take you around. It was a wonderful visit that we all enjoyed, so much so that we bought the book Memories of the old Plantation Home by Laura Locoul Gore. From here it was not such a long drive back to New Orleans.

With still a day to go before The Birthday and New Year’s Eve, D suggested a trip down the coast and on into Mississippi. Before leaving we had tried to get a swamp tour, but that one was fully booked, but we did pass another operator, and decided to go back and try for a tour. Luckily they had space for us and we soon boarded the boat and headed out into the Pearl River. Our guide took us along the river into the Honey Island Swamp and we saw lots of wildlife on the way.

Now we drove on towards Mississippi and refreshments. These we found at the Mockingbird Café in Bay St Louis, a jolly café with wi-fi, in this seaside town of Mississippi. We were hoping to get to the Sandhill Crane reserve, and so, on we drove along the coast, taking in the beautiful beaches as well as seeing the commercial resort of Biloxi with its casinos. At last we came to the centre, rather late as the gates close at 5pm and there was only about half an hour to go. So we walked quickly down to the water’s edge, then got back in the car and drove off to another car park that didn’t close. From here we could walk part of the trail. 

Before we got there we stopped to see what several people had stopped to look at – a female alligator partially hidden across the bank of a small river. Someone reckoned that she was semi-hibernating, and just lay there as still as stone. We made a short walk, enjoying the low sun, then stopped by the bay to watch it set. And then we just had to drive back to New Orleans. What a great day out!
The great birthday dawned and it was presents with breakfast. The big surprise was a trip to the practice days of the Masters in Augusta in April, a very popular present, and I can go, too. The plan was to visit the Ogden Museum today, which we very much enjoyed and then we went in search of coffee, as usual. There was one lovely coffee shop open close by, Bittersweet Confections, where the lady put a candle in A’s cupcake as a birthday cake. The coffee was very good and various cakes were also very much enjoyed. Just next door is a glassblower’s where you can watch the blowers at work, though they weren’t up to much today. They did have some wonderful glass creations for sale and New Orleans residents must be very tempted. There was a cruise ship ‘parked’ at the end of the street – that’s where the terminal is and it looks very strange seeing the several storeys high ship between the houses.


After all this we had a quick shop in Wholefoods and a rest as tonight we ate in Restaurant Nola in the middle of the French Quarter. A beautiful restaurant, where we were seated upstairs and enjoyed excellent service and delicious food and a birthday treat for A. And then we went outside to the riverside to watch a spectacular firework display.

New Year’s Day dawned, and we had to get going as the men were playing golf at the Audubon Park Golf Course. Off they went, and we ladies went off to the mall as M wanted to look at some clothes. Once that was done, we drove across to Barnes and Noble and their Starbucks. Here I found Dr. Zeus books for birthday presents to take home; and then we discovered Lego Architecture. What a great extra for A and D who are always hoping for Lego, but thought they would have to wait another five years for the expected baby to be old enough to have some. This is just so grown-up that they don’t need that excuse! We got The Empire State Building and Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House. We had a last family meal together as M&N were leaving the next day.